By Wendy Holdren

Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is announcing $53 million in funding to 44 states, four tribes and Washington, D.C., to improve access to treatment for opioid use disorders, reduce opioid related deaths and strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts.

The funding will also support improved data collection and analysis around opioid misuse and overdose as well as better tracking of fatal and nonfatal opioid-involved overdoses.

West Virginia, the state with the nation's worst overdose death rate, will receive a portion of the $11 million in Prescription Drug Opioid Overdose Prevention Grants awarded to 11 states; a portion of the $9 million in Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Prescription Drugs Grants awarded to 21 states; and a portion of the $4.27 million in Enhanced State Surveillance of Opioid-Involved Morbidity and Mortality program funds awarded to 12 states.

Specific numbers for each state were not provided in a teleconference on Tuesday.

"Clearly the opioid epidemic is a national problem of such proportions they're hard to describe," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said Tuesday on the White House conference call. "While it's a national problem, it's locally where we're obviously feeling the effects."

Earlier this month, Cabell County had 28 heroin overdoses, two of which were fatal, in a matter of hours. Officials suspect the heroin was cut with a more potent substance, such as carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer.

Williams said Huntington had 70 overdose deaths in 2015. The year-to-date count is down to 35.

"The problem we have in West Virginia -- we only have 28 detox beds in West Virginia. There are eight detox beds in Cabell County."

Williams said even if every one of the individuals who overdosed recently had sought help, they would have likely been put on a six-month waiting list.

"When someone is asking for, begging for help, we don't have six months. We don't have six weeks. We don't have six days."

The issue is not a partisan one, he said, "This is an issue of saving lives."

Both Williams and Michael P. Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, urged Congress to act on the proposed $1.1 billion funding plan to address the crisis.

Botticelli said there were more than 200 overdoses last week in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

While he is pleased about the availability of naloxone to reverse the symptoms of opioid overdoses, he said the work isn't done once the patient is revived or when they reach the emergency room.

"It's not enough to turn the tide of the epidemic ... There's a lack of substance use treatment facilities, and an enormous treatment gap. Too many are seeking treatment and can't find it."

Administered by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the $53 million in funding announced today supports six programs:

--Medication-Assisted Treatment Prescription Drug Opioid Addiction Grants -- Up to $11 million will be provided to 11 states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services for persons with opioid use disorder. This program targets states identified as having the highest rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin and prescription opioids per capita, and prioritizes those states with the most dramatic recent increases for heroin and opioids.

--Prescription Drug Opioid Overdose Prevention Grants -- Up to $11 million will be provided to 12 states to reduce opioid overdose-related deaths. Funding will support training on prevention of opioid overdose-related deaths as well as the purchase and distribution of naloxone to first responders.

--Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Prescription Drugs Grants -- Up to $9 million will be provided to 21 states and four tribes to strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts. The grant program provides an opportunity for states, U.S. territories, Pacific jurisdictions, and tribal entities that have completed a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant to target the priority issue of prescription drug misuse.

The program is designed to raise awareness about the dangers of sharing medications and work to address the risks of overprescribing. The program also seeks to raise community awareness and bring prescription drug misuse prevention activities and education to schools, communities, parents, prescribers, and their patients.

--Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program; Prescription Drug Overdose -- Up to $11.5 million in supplemental funding will be provided to 14 states. This supplemental funding will support the ongoing work of awardees, allowing awardees to address issues such as high overdose death rates in tribal communities and improve toxicology and drug screening. States can use this funding to enhance prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), further prevention efforts, and execute and evaluate strategies to improve safe prescribing practices.

--Data-Driven Prevention Initiative (DDPI) -- $6 million will be awarded to 13 states and DC to advance and evaluate state-level prevention activities to address opioid misuse and overdose. That includes enhancing their ability to: improve data collection and analysis around opioid misuse and overdose; develop strategies that impact behaviors driving prescription opioid misuse and dependence; and work with communities to develop more comprehensive opioid overdose prevention programs.

--Enhanced State Surveillance of Opioid-Involved Morbidity and Mortality program -- $4.27 million in funds will be awarded to 12 states to better track fatal and nonfatal opioid-involved overdoses. States will use the funding to increase the timeliness of reporting nonfatal and fatal opioid overdose and associated risk factors; disseminate surveillance findings to key stakeholders working to prevent opioid-involved overdoses; and share data with CDC to support improved multi-state surveillance of and response to opioid-involved overdoses.

(c)2016 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)